On paper not the most enticing or exciting of prospects, it says a lot about the powerhouse performance of its sole operator that Locke is such an impressive feature.
In recent years we’ve seen a growing number of experimental films based solely within a single location; movies that offer a welcome divergence from what is normally drip fed via the studios.
Standouts include the excellent Rodrigo Cortés nail-biter Buried (2010), the little seen psychological thriller Exam (2009) and zombie movie Pontypool (2008) and Steven Knight’s claustrophobic road movie is a strong addition to this micro-genre.
In the case of Locke, the restrictions it places on itself are particularly constraining. Its singular location is a BMW car being driven by construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), whose decision one evening to drive to London from Birmingham has far-reaching consequences not only on his professional career but also his marriage and family.
As Ivan makes his fateful drive, we see the consequences of his actions play out through the increasingly fraught telephone conversations he has with wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson), son Eddie (Tom Holland), work colleague Donal (Andrew Scott) and boss Gareth (Ben Daniels); as well as with another woman Bethan (Oliva Colman). Never has the cooly automated message “you have a call waiting” had such charged overtones.
It’s no surprise Hardy jumped at the chance to flex his acting muscles following a number of physically intimidating turns in the likes of The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Warrior (2011) and he delivers a bravura performance of a man whose methodical existence is ripped asunder as the pressure mounts.
Shot in real-time, Hardy visibly ages and deteriorates. Even his body works against him as the effects of a cold virus take hold. Hardy’s Welsh accent and tightly coiled stoicism brings to mind early Richard Burton and it’s a testament to the strength of his presence on screen that the comparison is entirely appropriate.
Such a performance therefore doesn’t need a script that can’t help trowelling on the metaphor. We learn very early on that concrete plays a big part of Locke’s life and Knight doesn’t shy away from laying on the symbolism as the foundations begin to crumble under his character’s feet.
By using the wrong concrete, Locke informs Donal, “cracks appear and they will grow and grow until they collapse”. And as if we haven’t deduced the analogy, he goes to say: “You make one little mistake and the whole world comes crashing down around you.”
As the walls close in, Locke’s fractured psyche reveals itself through one-way conversations he has with his neglectful dad through the rear view mirror. He’s determined not to repeat the sins of the father, but events seem to suggest otherwise and, tellingly, he subconsciously looks into the same mirror as he talks to his son.
The film’s visual signature is understandably sparse (there’s only so many ways you can film the inside of a car), but that only serves to focus attention further on one of the performances of the year. Locke is a long dark night of the soul you won’t forget.